Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

WWOOF your way around the world!

By Jacob Madden for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms
  • WWOOFers volunteer for free in exchange for meals, a bed and advice on organic farming
  • Each country has its own national WWOOF organization

Jacob Madden, 28, a robotics engineer from Camarillo, California, and his wife Kendall, an English school teacher, also 28, WWOOFed their way down New Zealand on five farms in October last year.

Still WWOOFing as part of their round-the-world trip and currently on a three-month volunteer teaching assignment in Nepal, Madden has written an online guide for people looking for a similar experience. Here is an extract:

(CNN) -- What is WWOOFing? Well, for short, it is your ticket to an incredible farming experience in one of over 50 countries in the world. Think of any country and they are likely to have WWOOF hosts there, ready to take you in with open arms.

The acronym stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, but some still refer to it as Willing Workers On Organic Farms. People of varying experience levels and all ages (although, usually a minimum age of 16) have been taking advantage of this excellent program since it started in the UK in 1971.

Here is the idea: You, the WWOOFer, agree to volunteer on an organic farm working for at least four to six hours a day for a few days or more in exchange for the host providing free home-cooked meals, a free room, and free advice on organic farming.

You do not pay any money and your hosts will not pay you any money. It works more like a labor exchange where you get the experience of living a truly organic and sustainable lifestyle, and your hosts get extra hands on the farm.

Most hosts love to teach and each place is unique and full of so many opportunities.
--Jacob Madden, WWOOF volunteer
RELATED TOPICS

Each country has a separate national WWOOF organization. You must register in the country you would like to work in. WWOOFing is free, there is an annual fee for each organization to cover expenses connecting WWOOF hosts with WWOOFers. You can pay this online.

WWOOFers can list special farming, construction, or art skills on their online profile. The competition to to win a place on good farms can be intense and any extra skills will give you a leg up on the rest. It is quite overwhelming at first because of the sheer volume of farms.

We emailed a few farms in Northland, New Zealand, and they said to wait until a couple weeks before we wanted to come to contact them about working.

But when we emailed the week before we left, many of the farms were already booked.

If you are super flexible about dates and location it's easier, but if, like us, you have limited time and want to explore the entire country then putting a game plan together is worthwhile.

Think of what types of work you would like to do. Think of how big you would like the farm to be. Do you want animals on the farm? Lastly, think of whether you want other WWOOFers to be there with you.

Get things arranged as soon as you can. We had a few farms that sounded awesome, but they were booked for the entire two months we were there.

Your bed can vary from sleeping in a tent, run-down camper van, shack, all the way up to a charming bed-and-breakfast style guestroom.

Each farm has a unique feel. Some have families with children, while others have lots of animals, and others have neither.

Some are mega-farms with over 1,000 acres, and others are really just houses with a vegetable garden. The variation is huge and this is part of what makes it interesting to do at least a few farms.

Some WWOOFers find a place they love and stay as long as the host lets them. We heard of cases of over a year. The norm, however, is between seven and 10 days.

Work-wise, there is weeding, weeding, and more weeding. It is not the only thing you will have to do and most hosts are reasonable but there is a lot of weeding to do on an organic farm.

But there were lots of other more interesting jobs. We disassembled a camper van and turned it into a goat shelter, set possum traps, planted vegetables, fed goats and chickens and milked cows.

We also sewed clothing, painted signs and a house, made a wall out of wine bottles, carved a trail through the bush up a hill, rode and groomed horses, put down compost, weeded a field of garlic and harvested vegetables.

You don't need to be an expert in anything to join the fun. Most hosts love to teach and each place is unique. and full of so many opportunities. If this sounds like the kind of thing you'd like to do, then get started. There is no time like the present.

My wife and I are trying to locate a good lifestyle block for ourselves in the USA northwest. Hopefully, we shall soon have WWOOFers of our own.

For more go to Jacob's blog: ourmadworld.com